Monthly Archives: October 2016

“Mary had a little lamb . . .”

situation-lamb

“Situational depression is a short-term form of depression that can occur in the aftermath of various traumatic changes in your normal life, including, retirement, loss of a job, the death of a relative or close friend, or leaving the Dominican Republic.  Doctors sometimes refer to the condition as adjustment disorder.” (Google)

And I have got to adjust.

Yes, I’m writing about the Dominican Republic again, so shoot me.  No.  I won’t apologize. Not in the least.  With today’s ideas of affection, I can have an attachment to a country. “They” say it happens – and now, “they” are correct.situation

I’m in the garage having a cigar, cell phone to my right, a copy of The New Yorker is to my left, notes are on my lap.  The weather is cooler than usual, the atmosphere a bit dank.  It is relatively quiet.  I decided not to turn on the radio.  

I’ve been reminiscing about my trip to the DR. It’s been a full week since my body left the island, but really, my heart is still there.  (Sing it for me, Tony!)  Sentimental?  Yeah, you could say that.  

Yes, it was a working vacation of sorts.  But the small particles of the journey refuse to fall off the prongs of my memory.  I can still see you –  the faces, the cities, the cigar factories, the workers, the buildings, the chickens, the dogs.  It’s all there in stunning Vistavision!  

Hell, maybe I’m just an old fart who has a romantic streak in him a mile wide.  I see that kind of individual all the time in the shops I visit.  Guys have this idyllic idea of what the cigar broker’s life is like, and they calcify that notion in their minds.  Go!  Do it!  Get a real taste of reality and if you still have this starry-eyed perception – great.  It is fantastic for me.  But for you?  I can’t say.

fruit-vendorBut I have been to the mountaintop, and I am missing a piece of me.

“Keep busy!”  That’s a realistic approach, uh? Then my mind can occupy itself with other things that will force out the ideas I have already stored in there.  I tried that.  It don’t work.

“Then go back,” some have suggested.  “I shall,”  is my reply.

“Snap out of it!”  “I can’t.”  (Pause.)

“Get back to reality, man.” To that harsh advice I say, “”What is reality?”  Shades of Sandra Dee’s portrayal of Gidget.

“You’re right,” I concede.  I do have control over my thoughts.  And that is why I’m in the garage, smoking a cigar and musing about them.  I’m reassessing what my reality is?  And brother that flood of truth is coming – visits by sales managers, end-of-year numbers, payments that need to be chased down, and on and on and on.

situation-plateIndeed, if you saw what was on my plate beside the above, you would be overwhelmed.  If you weren’t, I’d have to call you insensitive or callous.  But I CAN handle it.  I have and I will. Ha ha!  My motivation?  BILLS!  BILLS!  BILLS! Enough said.

No, the thoughts of altering my reality have been set in motion and the linking of escapist ideas are swirling in my mind just ever so anxious to congeal into a final solution.

I ask myself, “Why not alter reality to fulfill the obligations to the status quo, but also to satisfy the promises I made to me?  Ah, what a concept.   A few years back, the latter was a foreign idea.  But ever since I left the DR, it has become a welcome thought.

Basking in change is a bit unnerving, but it is the progenitor of what my reality has become.  And really, that is the situation.

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Tell Me I’m Dreamin’ . . .

windshield-rain

Cold rain, the wind, lunch trash and I’m feeling like the color of Grouchy Smurf!  Who wouldn’t?  Last week, or for the archivists among you –  recently, I was in the midst of heaven on earth.  A cliché I am well aware.  But the truth speaketh not a falsehood.  Man, I was in the Dominican and the sun was shinin’ and the warm breeze was a blown’ and I was able to smoke a cigar at 8:30 in the morning on the grounds of what I call a glimpse into paradise.  Now here I am plunked back down into the drink.  Arargh!!!

It’s a mindset, right?  I mean it’s all I have that I can control – my mind.  Train it, mold it, exercise it.  I can do that!  Reason over fantasy, right?  Mind over matter.  Copy that! Affirmative.  I CAN see beyond the blurred windows of this fast-food franchise restaurant I’m eating at – alone.  I can visualize.  Do it like Arnold did.  Weider-trained and Strong!  

Close my eyes and viz-u-a-lize!

sutton-and-pyle

The car’s interior is confining.  I can’t smoke a cigar in there.  Or won’t.  I’m blistering my brain to think right now.  How to relax?  Get back to reality.  Big boys don’t cry, big boys don’t cry . . . .

“Suck it up!”  I can hear Sergeant Carter now.  His method of motivation is the same as a sales manager who has the people skills of a Charles Manson.  

“F%@k you! Carter!”  (Pause)  That’s not me?  Is it? Did I utter such vulgarity?  No!  It’s my loud and often politically incorrect conscious bleating out the truth!  All I know right now is this reality, and it does not appeal to me at all.  My eyes mist over as I recall the days . . . .

******

Care for a swim in the pool at the De Los Reyes Cigar Factory’s villa?  Or how about a fresh orange, or banana, or maybe a sip of pure coconut water from a street vendor in downtown Santiago.  Maybe you’d rather chomp on a juicy avocado when you get home purchased from a twig of a man who just appeared at your side car window practically thrusting the football-sized fruit (yes, fruit – look it up) into your lap!

tamboril-fare

Or take a walk through the quiet streets of Tamboril and stop to eat the local fare.  This one day I had chicken, avocado, rice and an ice-cold Sprite.  I ate out in the open, shared my lunch with my love, and watched listlessly as the traffic passed by.  

Maybe gaze at the colorful building, the public art painted on the walls, the smiles and the frowns of the locals.  Or just stop.  Stand in the middle of the sidewalk and breathe in the fresh, humid air that rustles down from the mountains that surround the island.

You can live any way you want to live in the Dominican.  You can work as hard as you want. You can spend as much as you want.  You can save as much as you want.  The traffic is crazy and the drivers are insane, but it still isn’t Chicago or Detroit style traffic – it’s worse!!!  But you will begin to undulate to the rhythm of the swervy roads and manic drivers’ decisions.  Eventually, you’ll begin to sail along as if you were born there.  Your heart is intact – out of your throat, and calm with rapture.  And the car is unscratched – if only for one more day.  (Lucky this trip, honestly.)

santiago-streets

 

Cigars are mellower, brighter, tastier in Santiago and Tamboril – but, they aren’t cheaper.  And truthfully you don’t care (What? Me buy a cigar?).  You eat, drink, gawk, and puff as you walk, stride and drive.  It is Mars.  And lifeforms possessing grace, warmth, and friendship populate this terrain.  And thank God they do.

The brilliance will continue to reflect its magic upon my being.  You stalwart travelers who say my naïveté is showing?  No.  Not at all.  I saw the hardships, I witnessed the poverty, I experienced the reality.  I am not looking through rose -colored glasses.  I have been able to reach beyond my grasp.  My arms are not too short.  My heart is still filled with the love I have for this island and its people.  And on my return trip, ahhhh how I pine for that –  my soul will feel the overflowing joy experienced by the prodigal son’s father upon his return.

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2016 AD . . .

mounds-of-cigars

What do I do when I discover that my life AD (after Dominican) has the same plot as a classic B&W film made in the 40s?  Well, of course depending on the movie I should know the ending – right?  Right.  But in the real (pardon the pun) sense of the word “plot” – the author has given the characters personalities that when imbued into the thread, will evoke an overall mood that will be projected (I’m hot tonight – pun two) into the minds of the viewers hopefully for the entire storyline.  

In short, it’s not so much the diegesis as it is the emotions that are created by each role that attaches themselves to the psyches of the audience that really involve the feelings of being in the film.

It’s just like Woody Allen’s 1985 celluloid masterpiece, “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”  When Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) walks off the black and white film into the colorful present world and into the life of Cecilia (Mia Farrow) all kinds of twists and turns are the result of the fantastical scenario.

And one of the consequences is the instinctive or intuitive feelings that are created between the two main characters, not so much what the action is.  I’m referring to the raw emotions that are the connective tissues – not so much the plot.

ricks

So even though I think I’m living the film’s storyline, I am only really experiencing the movie’s resultant emotions.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Adding the plotline in is a bonus and in my case, the editing room will have some snippets left on the floor, but essentially – I am living the movie.

Why do I keep it a secret?  Because I can.  But if you really want a hint, and you really want to read my mind and see what the hell I’m talking about – watch “Casablanca.”  For the admiringly perceptive it will become as clear to those who quickly see the hidden image in a computer-generated stereogram.

 

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Listen to yourself . . .

a-changed-me

“ Ok, so you’re heart broken.   You sit around mopin’.  Cryin’ cryin’.  You say you’re even thinkin’ about dyin’?  Well, before you do anything rash, dig this . . .  –  The Main Ingredient.

Yes, I get it.  But I ain’t no fool neither.  I know we all have to go back to work sometime. But we also all have the ability to hold onto our memories – and realities.  I still have this deep love in my heart for the place I left no more than 24 hours ago – The Dominican Republic.  We all can make our dreams come true, and right now that is my main focus or motivation – to make a crystalline vision I hold into my real world.

So as I sit here, smoking a Cuban Crown by Luis Gutierrez, I give you fair warning that you will begin to see, hear and feel changes in this blog.  For the astute, these differences will quickly become apparent.  For the rumble-headed nitwits, this subtle morphing may not be as clear.  But honestly, I don’t feel the latter are my readers.  (Shrug.)

All that surrounds me has been transformed.  The details will slowly appear, drop by silent drop.  Keep your eyes on the ball.  Keep your eyes on the ball.  Keep your eyes on the ball and eventually, you will smack that solid orb right out of the park.  And I’m hitting the ball waaaaaaaay over Waveland Avenue!  (For non-Chicagoans, look it up.)  And all it took was a moment in time when I said to myself, “Listen, do you (I, me) want to know a secret?” – and I let myself hear the answer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1mTasCH2a4

Chunks from the Dominican . . .

vista-santiago

I’m in New York at JFK and I’ve just boarded the plane that will take me back to Chicago. It’s a small plane, but very roomy.  Plus I was able to choose an aisle seat, my first one of this  journey.

fruit-vendor

 

Too, I am still in a  romantic hazy daze.  I’m tangled up in this net with so many memories it’s difficult – if not impossible, to sort through them all.  Factories, cigars, people – the old man, thin as a rail and skin like leather, who kindly asked for some pesos, and once I gave him a few, he stuck around and smiled for more. 

Or the groups of children all marching down the street with their spiffy uniforms, laughing and dancing probably because it is Friday . . .

Or the concrete buildings in every stage of construction, still incomplete, but steadily being worked on as money slowly becomes available . . .

The gleaming white walls of the modern malls with stores inside that we see here in the states every day, but with an extra dimension of energy as throngs of people buzz up and down the air conditioned spaces.

The constant pestering of men and boys trying to sell over-ripened avocados, bags of limes, and huge coconuts;  and windshield washers appearing from all directions splashing water on the glass too late for me to say “No!”  So more pesos trade hands as I wait for traffic to move again.

clothes-vendorsOr the constant presence of chickens, stray dogs, and vendors selling everything from gym shoes, to cell phones . . .

Or seeing the majesty of Santiago’s monument “Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración” (Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration) commissioned by the dictator, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. . .

Or walking through the oldest Catholic church in the Americas with reverence and awe delighting in the mastery of the devotion these people have for the saints and God . . .

traffic-jams

The insane traffic jams that coagulate every day throughout the city by drivers who seemingly have no sense of direction or fear of death, mixed with scooters of all varieties that zip in and out of congested cars as if they are exempt from the laws (of which there seem to be none) sluicing by everyone like running water off jagged rocks . . .

Or finally trying Mofongo, a dish made from mashed green plantains with garlic, olive oil and pork rinds (or bacon) with a taste so unique that it is reminiscent of a kiss of love . . . 

The warning from a native Dominican that she will make the guacamole of my preference from  avocados the size of footballs with no onions – but that it “Will not be very tasty that way.”

Or the cheerful trills of “¡Hola!” in the morning at the hotel that I am staying as I step on marble stairs from the fourth floor to partake in the morning’s buffet of fruit, bread, pork, and a pea-green mixture of something that is being consumed by the others with gusto from huge mounds off their plates, but I decide to take the conservative approach and try just a tablespoon or two . . . 

bakeryThe donut at the bakery in downtown Santiago that has some sugar pressed into the dough that resembles dry bread with sweetness, washed down with a morning Sprite because it was suggested that I stay away from the water.

Or the kindness of a woman on the side streets who let a buyer go without paying for her fruit because she was short on pesos – but not hunger,  who said she would bring the money later, or the next day . . .

Or feeling like a member of the family as I ate lunch at a resident’s home not far from my hotel which consisted of sausages, chicken, potato salad and cracker-like bread, a cold Coke, and cooked plantains with brown sugar and cinnamon.

The renewed respect I have for the process of making cigars in a hands-on industry that has been around for generations and will continue to thrive regardless of governmental ignorance and the insouciance from the public-at-large.

sorter

This sorting process of impressions caught in this mental meshed fabric will never be complete as the color and size of tobacco leaves are in the factory.

No.  I will forever be draped by this sparkling, silken net chock-full of reminiscences.  And I will return to cast yet another one into the bright sun, blue skies, and chaotic traffic jams soon again to catch what riches I can that will live within me forever.

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Tidbits from the Dominican . . .

rams-tobacco

This will be the final “Tidbit . . . .”  I have to catch a plane.

Having your head swim can be a very humbling experience.  I was recently a guest at Tabacalera El Artista in Tamboril, and believe you me – even if you didn’t know one iota about cigars, this operation would floor you.

ram

 

For me to go into detail would do a disservice to the majesty of what Mr. Rodriguez Sr. began in 1956.  In fact, the factory is still in its original location and has expanded markedly to supply the world with some of the finest cigars that are known (and unknown) in the market today.

 

Ram Rodriguez, Jr. was kind enough to take me through the entire operation that was so extensive we had to stop for lunch for some Mofongo (and if you haven’t had it – have it!), sausage, steak, and pork with plantains wrapped in some delicious saucy, cheesy concoction that further aroused my affection for this island’s fare.

We covered everything from the moment the tobacco seeds are planted to the time the resultant leaves are harvested, fermented and eventually rolled into cigars.  I was a kid in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory without a parent – hell, without Willy!  It was absolutely spellbinding.

rams-factoryNot that this was the first factory that I had ever been in, but the depth and breadth of the complexity that was explained and shown to me was more fascinating than watching two teenagers petting in the back row of a movie theater.

This is one factory that has a long history and this legacy is going to be further introduced to the states via a wide variety of cigars that will not only please the aficionado’s palate but satisfy every cigars smoker’s penchant for finding some of the finest premium cigars made today.

Whew!  It’s late and I’m still dizzy.

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